Rice Students Obsess on Beer

What if beer could be good for you? That’s the question some students at rice university pose in a scientific experiment they’re conducting. Laurie Johnson has the story.

Leave it to college students to obsess about beer. A team of six bio-engineering students at Rice University have their own home-brewing system cranking away on campus, with the endorsement of their faculty.

“Upon looking into Texas liquor laws, as well as research that had been done previously, we thought it was something that we could actually get a handle on and perform in the timespan that we had been given.”

Taylor Stevenson is not yet legal drinking age. But he is part of the team working to genetically modify brewer’s yeast.

The goal is to cause the yeast to produce a byproduct known as resveratrol.

Resveratrol is a naturally occurring substance found in red wine. Studies show it could help reduce cancer and heart disease.

“It’s actually been shown to increase the cardiovascular health of some obese mice. So the deal is you feed these mice massive amounts of resveratrol, more than you could ever, ever hope to intake from red wine. But they do see this correlation between how much resveratrol these mice are being fed and essentially their athletic output, their cardiovascular output.”

Stevenson and his buddies aren’t just doing this for the kicks. BioBeer is their entry for the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at MIT.

Junior Thomas Segall-Shapiro says the project started out as a joke. But when they began researching the idea, it made sense to make a more healthy beer.

“Beer is basically a particularly good target, simply because once you get the engineered yeast the extra cost of adding this to your beer is absolutely nothing. So you just need to use the engineered yeast and basically the resveratrol will be produced naturally.”

The students are using a strain of yeast from Houston’s St. Arnold’s brewery. They confess any product they come up with right now will taste pretty nasty because of all the chemical markers they’re adding.

But that’s not stopping them from dreaming big.

“I mean my dream is kind of…you know how all salt is iodized now? That’s what I see this going towards. If it’s that easy to put into beer everybody could be doing it in a couple of years.”

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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